Clutching my crimson press VIP card and a Sharpie-circled schedule of shows, I once again tackled the New York International Fringe Festival — FringeNYC for short — the largest multi-arts festival in North America, which took over Manhattan’s downtown theater scene August 13–29 for its 14th year. My task this summer was particularly daunting since more than a quarter of the festival’s nearly 200 offerings had been deemed worthy of special LGBT interest.
Inspired by the true story of Harvard’s 1920 “secret court” formed to expel gay students, Stan Richardson’s Veritas, which won a FringeNYC Award for Best Ensemble, was the only show to sell out its entire run before the fest began. But if veritas be told, it didn’t quite live up to the buzz. Director Ryan J. Davis staged stunning moments, particularly interrogation and “bitch party” scenes, but the script needs to be stripped of jarring metatheatrics.
Sponsored by Logo, the engaging musical Bunked! by Alaina Kunin and Bradford Proctor is like Wet Hot American Summer with as much heart as high jinks. The attractive and likable camp counselors include Ben Moss as Stewart, a bisexual brain torn between Tim Ehrlich and the Kristin Chenoweth-y Amanda Jane Cooper as siblings Oliver and Anabel. Oliver may not get the guy, but he does score with the loudspeaker — a part prerecorded by Michael Urie.
When Last We Flew, a promising drama by Harrison David Rivers, centers on Jon-Michael Reese as Paul, a horny African-American teen who obsesses over a stolen copy of Angels in America to escape his Kansas life and the chance that his dad left because he didn’t want a gay son. The ensemble, which includes Christopher Larkin as Paul’s gay pal, is stellar, but the script is too tethered to Tony Kushner’s fantasia for the show to truly take flight.
What more can we learn about Harvey Milk from Dear Harvey when we’ve already got Milk? Plenty. Based largely on interviews with those who knew him, Patricia Loughrey’s touching tribute focuses less on the man and more on his impact on others. Scott Striegel is a standout as Cleve Jones, who details his creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, but I was most moved by a letter read by young Thomas Hodges, who wrote and performs the play’s score.
I avoid multicharacter solo shows, but I had some enchanted evening with South Pathetic, out comedian Jim David’s outrageous account of directing a motley crew in a North Carolina community theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire. You’ve met these caricatures before, but they’re good for spouting one-liners like “If you took all the homosexuals out of Southern literature, you’d pretty much be left with Opie and Aunt Bee.”
Meet the Broncatos, the stereotypical Italian-American family of Boston cops at the heart of John Pollono’s Lost and Found. Life’s dramatic enough for the widowed matriarch played by The Sopranos’ Geraldine Librandi, but one can almost hear the organ chords of an old soap opera when a gay stranger — an excellent Jon Krupp — literally shows up at the door claiming to be her son! NYPD Blue’s Bill Brochtrup stars as his effeminate partner.
Over and Over, Tim Aumiller’s titillating but tedious two-hander, has hot actors — Andy Riding and Were the World Mine’s Tanner Cohen in tight undies — and a terrific premise: Mitch, a closeted businessman, meets his old college roomie, Jimmie, now a gay soap star, for one last down-low hookup. Unfortunately, neither actor can overcome the script’s many contrivances, and Cohen can’t make Jimmie more than a grating, passive-aggressive queen.
Tom Jacobson’s The Twentieth-Century Way, which won a FringeNYC Award for Overall Excellence in Production, is based on a real 1914 incident in which California police hired actors to entrap homosexuals performing oral sex in public restrooms. Robert Mammana and Will Bradley wow as auditioning thesps who improv toward a naked climax: “The line between the actor and the role blurs and turns hazardous — have we become our parts?”
Möbius, Michael López-Sáenz’s dysfunctional family drama, is structured to seem like it’s about a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality, but bet on some surprising twists and timeline-tweaking turns when a play’s named after a Möbius strip. Too bad the big payoff is spoiled by a clumsy prologue and painfully unlikable characters, but I’m glad I stuck around to see star RJ Barnett stalk hottie Austin Mitchell in a gym locker room.
CollaborationTown made an indelible impact on me with The Momentum, a performance piece inspired by teachings of the Jewish priest Ezra. Created by TJ Witham with its three actors, Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, Jordan Seavey, and Boo Killebrew, this self-help seminar, directed by Lee Sunday Evans to show cracks as they struggle to buy their own BS, ends with three exquisite second-person monologues about relationships — two gay and one straight.
Lost and Found, Over and Over, South Pathetic, The Twentieth-Century Way, When Last We Flew, and Bunked! are among the 21 shows selected for this year’s FringeNYC Encore Series, which runs through September 26 at the Players Theatre, the Lucille Lortel Theatre, and the Huron Club at Soho Playhouse. For a detailed performance schedule, visit www.fringenyc-encores.com.